Statement at TNC/HODs 2018

Ambassador Dagfinn Sørli, Norway’s Permanent Representative to the WTO and EFTA, in his intervention delivered at the informal Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) and Heads of Delegations (HoDs) meeting on 16 October, expressed the need for improving the WTO in order to protect and safeguard the multilateral trading system. Norwegian statement in its entirety can be read below:

Thank you, DG, for your report, and thanks to the chairs of the negotiating groups for their updates.

A rules-based multilateral trading system is fundamental to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible. Norway strongly believes that it is in the long-term interest of all members to protect and safeguard this system.

This does not mean that the system is perfect. The current system – with its strengths and weaknesses - is the result of more than 70 years of give and take between members. It is the result of our collective successes – and failures. The system is our joint product, and it is our joint responsibility to improve what needs to be improved. The best way to protect the system is to improve it.

Chair, the most immediate threat to the rules-based trading system is the lack of respect for the rules. Norway’s concerns about the damaging effects of increased protectionism, unilateral measures and escalating trade tensions are no less today than before the summer break. We urge all members to respect their WTO rights and obligations also when they experience challenges, which in the short term may make it tempting to move into grey areas.

Secondly, the sharp end of the rules-based system is being undermined by the inability to fill the empty seats of the Appellate Body. Norway calls on all members to agree without further delay to resolve this unacceptable situation.

Thirdly, Norway agrees that the rulebook needs to be updated. Members have different priorities in this regard: Some members point to unfinished business, some underline ongoing processes, and some highlight new issues that are seen as the root cause of the present trade tensions. Addressing the various concerns of members regarding gaps in the rule book is key to ensuring the continued relevance of the WTO.

We know that filling the gaps in the rulebook is extremely difficult. Our reflex will always be to seek multilateral solutions. If that is not possible in the short term, Norway is prepared to explore alternative and more flexible approaches to obtain negotiated results.

We also need to give the development dimension sufficient weight and visibility. The dialogue started at MC11 needs to be reinforced in order to bridge the gap between members’ different perspectives on trade and development. We need to find a better approach, an approach that takes the different abilities of members to contribute within each area of the negotiations into account. Without a different approach, I am afraid that it will be very difficult to reach multilateral agreement on filling the gaps of the rulebook.

Regarding ongoing processes, we would like to highlight the negotiations on fisheries subsides to implement SDG 14.6. Norway thanks the RNG chair for his innovative guidance to engage members in brainstorming in four so-called incubator groups to look for new ideas and approaches.

Chair, different members in a variety of configurations have started discussions on modernization of the WTO. This is timely and necessary, and Norway is grateful to members such as Canada for having initiated such discussions. Key to success will be transparency, inclusiveness and taking the interests and priorities of all members into account.

Status quo is not an option. In order to safeguard and strengthen the WTO, all members need to demonstrate political will to make changes. Norway is ready to do its part.

An excerpt and summary of Director-General Roberto Azevêdo's statement from the same event can be read here.